What we regard must seduce us, and we it, if we are to continue looking

from “The World is Large and Full of Noises: Thoughts on Translation” by Jane Hirshfield

Knowledge is erotic. We see this not only in the Bible’s dual use of the term “to know,” but also, as classicist Anne Carson has pointed out, in the Homeric verb mnaomai, which means both “to hold in attention” and “to woo.” What we regard must seduce us, and we it, if we are to continue looking. A great poem creates in its readers the desire to know it more thoroughly, to live with it in intimacy, to join its speaking to their own as fully as possible. We memorize it, recite it over and over, reawaken it with tongue and mind and heart. Many translators describe their first encounter with their chosen authors as a helpless falling in love: a glimpse of a few translated fragments can lead to years of language study in order to hear directly the work’s own voice. And in matters of art, it seems, Eros is generous rather than possessive: the translator wants to reciprocate this gift received, to pass the new love on to others—and thus the work of translation begins.

No, I do not wish you success

from Ursula Le Guin’s 1983 commencement address at Mills College:

Success is somebody else’s failure. Success is the American Dream we can keep dreaming because most people in most places, including thirty million of ourselves, live wide awake in the terrible reality of poverty. No, I do not wish you success. I don’t even want to talk about it. I want to talk about failure.

Because you are human beings you are going to meet failure. You are going to meet disappointment, injustice, betrayal, and irreparable loss. You will find you’re weak where you thought yourself strong. You’ll work for possessions and then find they possess you. You will find yourself — as I know you already have — in dark places, alone, and afraid.

What I hope for you, for all my sisters and daughters, brothers and sons, is that you will be able to live there, in the dark place. To live in the place that our rationalizing culture of success denies, calling it a place of exile, uninhabitable, foreign.

Grammar in the Real World – Updated

3rd Person Insultive, 1st Person Aggressive, and more

So, I got an email this week that was just incredibly hostile, a pointed personal attack written in a strange and strained, passive voice, 3rd person construction. In describing it to someone else, I jokingly referred to its construction as the “3rd person insultive” case.

And I liked that—both because the humor relieved some of the awful sick feeling of it, and because it seemed true. So now I’m wondering what other constructions of grammar we’ve experienced. I’ll start making a list of mine, with suggested definitions. Please add to it as you discover your own!

-3rd person insultive—a personal attack written in the passive, third person “some people have been”

-1st person past invective interrogatory—a verb form of regret and/or anger, used when reviewing something that happened which, in light of what has happened since, has become enraging, hurtful, or distasteful, as in “damn it, why didn’t see that coming?” or “fuck, I should have known when she….” or the infamous “Jesus H. Christ, I can’t believe I let myself do that for her.”

-1st person aggressive—denotes the out of control use of “I feel” statements, or when these statements are used to dominate a person or group or control the outcome of a decision

-future empirical—used most often by remote, “scientific” voices calmly explaining that Y must and will happen because of X and because That Is The Way Of The World

-2nd person past imperative— the verb form embodied by “You should have!”


-1st person past regretative
—as in “I should have!”

2nd person passive-aggressive infinitive—as in “If you are going to disagree with me then there is nothing to be done/said.”

from Karen Escovitz:

-2nd person hostile projective—in which the person slings insults or accusations which are more true of themselves than the identified target

-passive accusatory—used most often by batterers, bad parents, and State Departments, as in “why do you go on making me hurt you?

-past perfect mind fuckative—where the person distorts things in such a persuasive way that it leaves you disoriented and questioning your understanding of reality (usually 1st or 2nd person?)

-2nd person victim blamative accusatory—as in “you let people take advantage of you” or “if you hadn’t been there in the first place, maybe that wouldn’t have happened”

from Sheila Allen Avelin:

-2nd-person accusatory interrogative— “How could you?”

from Adina Abramowitz:

-2nd person I know you better than you do—As in “You always . . .” used to escalate arguments, as in “you always make a mess” or “You always leave the toothpaste cap off.

from Alicia Ostriker:

-2nd person aggressive interrogative—as in “Why are you frowning?”, “Did you finish the cleanup?”, “Are you sorry?”, “Where were you?”

from Jenn Sheffield:

3rd person exculpatory—a point argued using someone else’s purported opinion to protect oneself, as in “Well, some people would say that being gay is a cop-out.” (Yes, a former teacher said this to me when I first came out to her. And I wasn’t quite with-it enough to rejoin, “But do YOU think so?” So it was a completely hypothetical argument.)

from Naomi Klayman

First Person Whinative—as in “How come I never get to … ?”(often used by small children and adults acting like small children)

Pluperfect Shithead—as in someone who accuses: “if you had only taken a minute to think about it you would have (done it my way)!” Purpose is to humiliate instead of empower.

3rd person future reclaimative—when someone says something intended to hurt you but ends up giving you the opportunity to be creative – much to their dismay.

2nd person silent pejorative eyeroll—as in, well, you know exactly what this means

from Layney Wells

1st person dismissive—as in “I’m sorry you feel that way…..But” Also known as 1st person false sympathy underminitive

and, growing from this, Elliott adds:

1st person self-justifying conjuctive— the use of the word “but” to reveal the hidden agenda, which is always to offer a clause of false sympathy or agreement and then to reveal the true intention of the speech, to say why you are wrong and the speaker is correct, such as “I’m sorry you were hurt BUT I told you so” or “Wow, that sucks BUT I think you kind of deserved it because…..” (note-while violence is never a justifiable solution, this use of the word “but” does make me want to do anything to the speaker that will make them stop talking)

from Jennie Ruby

passive sarcastic imperative—as in, “Yeah, that’ll get done.”

snortative absolute— as in, “Harumph.”

from Carol Burbank

3rd person holistic— when pseudo-loving abstractions are used to whole-istically define the world according to “one’s” personal needs and beliefs

1st person interlickutory— when language of command via questions and rising and falling tones is sensually applied, either by phone or in person, to express and lubricate a partner

2nd person moderational— in which a well intentioned but foolish friend tries to interrupt a fight between two equally well intentioned but foolish friends, as in “That’s not what I heard her say…” or “Are you sure that’s what she meant?”

-which always leads to 1st person explosive—“What makes you think you understand ANYTHING!?”

-which invokes multiple potential responses, ranging from 1st person past invocative accusatory to 1st person whinative (usually on both sides) and inevitably 1st person dismissive, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” and 1st person escapative (“I gotta go!”)

Aaaaaannnnd…. Back from the High Holidays!

Wow, that was quite ride – deciding in August to help make High Holidays happen in early September, WITH a previous promise to spend a week in Minnesota helping my beloveds get married.

Somehow it all came off, and was marvelous. I learned so much from the whole process, and have gotten more and more clear that I need to be working as a liturgist. Not sure how to make a living from that yet, but I am making a life from it, which is a start.

I gave my first-ever Big Talk During the High Holidays, on Yom Kippur during Kol Nidre. I spoke about what the promise of kol nidre – to be released from vows – has meant to me as an incest survivor. I’ve known and loved this community for a long time, and standing in that ritual space, speaking deep truths, felt so incredibly right. Maybe it’s time for rabbinical school after all?

Anyway, here’s the text of my talk. And I’ll be back to blogging soon!

Elliott batTzedek Kol Nidre talk: To be forced to vow against oneself

NaPoMo 25 – Weaponized

Weaponized

Castor beans morning glories almond tea weaponized
orange juice niacin daffodils weaponized
kitten breath, plough shares, emory boards weaponized
sliding boards, Bic pens, warm bed, kitchen knives weapon-
ized booby prize, bedroom eyes, pasturized weaponized
Tylenol, bandaids, birth control, self-control,
out of control, outer space, quiet space weaponized
childhood weaponized embroidery weaponized fur-
niture weaponized straw weapon Coke weapon eye-
glass drinking glass stained glass looking glass weapons
now, now weaponizing beauty bars hair styles style
guides guide books travel plans passports airports car ports 
team sports steam ports steam punk old junk deep funk wea-
ponized planet:      water      earth      fire      air      we-

You can’t get it right, so the only thing you can do is make it better.

January 28, 2013, 9:00 pm
The Treachery of Translators

By ANDY MARTIN
The fact is, there were always going to be a lot of fish in “Vingt mille lieues sous les mers.” When a publishing house commissioned me to produce a new translation of Jules Verne’s 19th-century underwater epic, I was confident of bringing a degree of joyous panache to the story of Captain Nemo, his submarine, the Nautilus and that giant killer squid. But I had forgotten about its systematic taxonomy of all the inhabitants of the seven seas.

Somewhere around page 3 of “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” I got this feeling that I was starting to drown in fish. There are an awful lot of fish down there, and there were possibly even more in the middle of the 19th century. Whereas my ichthyological vocabulary, whether in French or English or indeed any other language, was severely limited. The fish (and assorted oceanic mammals), in other words, far outnumbered my linguistic resources. I now know I should just have boned up on fish, the way any decent, respectable translator would have done.

(Note to the decent, respectable translator: I teach a college class on translation but I accept your critique that I am long on theory and short on practice.)

Instead I started counting how many pages there were and calculating how much I was getting paid per fish. It didn’t add up. I realize now that I should have switched to “Around the World in Eighty Days” – there are far fewer fish in that one.

My brilliant translating career hit another high when a French publisher invited me to translate Brigitte Bardot’s memoirs, “Initiales BB.” I had written a memoir about my childhood obsession with Bardot, so I said O.K. and suggested some modest revisions. It would have to be completely re-written from top to bottom and I would definitely take out all those exclamation marks. And I would put back in that affair with the English guy after she married Gunter Sachs – she should never have left that out! They took that as a “non.” Tant pis. All translators rewrite and rectify. Some even feel that they can do a better job of writing Bardot’s life than Bardot.

The law of karma is as unforgiving in the realm of translation as in any other and I was overdue for a taste of my own punishment. I had written a book about surfing in Hawaii called “Walking on Water,” which was eventually translated into Dutch. I had nothing to do with the translation and was simply presented with a fait accompli. My command of Dutch is negligible, but I thought I would test out “Lopen over water” by reference to a metaphor that was, if not my greatest contribution to literature, at least distinctively my own. There was a passage where I was drowning, but not feeling too put out about it, and I had written: “Death was warm and embracing like porridge.” I zeroed in on the sentence, but I couldn’t find anything even closely related to porridge. So I checked with a Dutch-speaking friend – could she tell me how the translator had done it?

“You’d better sit down,” she said.

The translator had not given my immortal metaphor the time of day. He had the same kind of hang-up about porridge that I had about fish. He took a shortcut right round it, passing seamlessly from the previous sentence to the one following. The porridge had not been lost in translation; it had been quite deliberately eradicated.

My first thought was to get on the next plane to Amsterdam and go and knock on his door. Maybe I could find some porridge and fling it in his face. My own transgressions, over the years, have taught me to be more tolerant and understanding. On the other hand, Herman, if you would like to put on gloves and shorts, we can resolve this matter in the ring, anytime.

It may have been this experience that caused me to write an article for a British newspaper titled, “Translation Is Impossible.” I was supposed to be reviewing a bunch of English-French dictionaries, but I happened to cite the classic Groucho Marx joke, which goes (in one of its variants), “You’re only as old as the woman you feel,” as an instance of the untranslatable. At least as far as French is concerned. You need a verb, “feel,” that functions both transitively and intransitively, and means something like “caress” and “my current emotional status” all at once. It doesn’t (so far as I know) exist in French. A couple of months later – inevitably – some friend in Paris sent me “La Traduction Est Impossible,” the French translation of my original article, which had been published in a Paris magazine.

Naturally the first thing I looked for was the translation of the Marxian pun. I was genuinely interested – I really wanted to know how the translator had pulled it off. And to think I had claimed it was impossible – I was about to be proved wrong! But translation is always an interpretation. In this case, the translator had written something like this, updating New York ’50s sexist humor into ’90s Parisian political correctness: “Here is an example of a sentence that is manifestly impossible to translate: ‘A man is only as old as the woman he can feel inside of him trying to express herself.'” So, in some sense, I felt vindicated, but also – as usual – betrayed by a graduate from the school of translation.

In my opinion, you don’t have to be mad to translate, but it probably helps. Take, for instance, the case of the late, great Gilbert Adair. He was translating into English the brilliant novel by Georges Perec, “La Disparition” – a lipogram written entirely without the letter “e.” (I had had a tentative go at eliminating the most frequently occurring letter in both English and French and failed utterly.) Adair even succeeded, for a while, in deleting “e” from his vocabulary. I met him for tea in London, while he was in the midst of it, at the Savoy hotel (it had to be the Savoy, not Claridge’s or the Grosvenor, obviously). When a waitress came around and asked if he would like “tea or coffee,” he frowned, gritted his teeth, and replied, “Lapsang souchong.”

Even his title is genius: “A Void” (think about it: He not only avoided the “e’s” in “The Disappearance,” but he also slipped in a dash of metaphysical angst and a cool play on words). The lesson I learned from Adair, a really serious translator, is this: You can’t get it right, so the only thing you can do is make it better.

Andy Martin is the author of “The Boxer and the Goalkeeper: Sartre vs Camus.” He teaches at Cambridge University.

Poets on Poets

Vladimir Khodasevich writing about Marina Tsvetaeva:

Poets are not born in a country. Poets are born in childhood.
What, then, is Russian about Marina Tsvetaeva?

Tsvetaeva understood audial and linguistic work that play such an enormous role in folk song. Folk song is for the most part a litany, joyful or grieving. There is an element of lamentation, an element of tongue-twister and pun, there are echoes of spell, incantation, even exorcism in a folk song—there is a pure play of sounds—it is always partly hysterical, near the fall into tears or laughter, and partly zaum (refers to the pure play of language, “beyonsense” ).

Novels vs. Poems

more from Sarah Maquire’s essay “‘Singing About the Dark Times’: Poetry and Conflict”, this time on the difference between the novel and poetry:

But it is only in the past three hundred years, initially in Europe and then later in its colonies, that prose, specifically in the form of the novel, has taken over from poetry as the dominant language-based art form – though we should bear in mind that, for most of the habitable world, poetry continues to retain its primary status.

The ‘rise of the novel’, as the literary critic, Ian Watt, called his ground-breaking book of that name, is congruent with the rise of capitalism, with the development of individualism, personal life, privacy, the Protestant notion of conscience – all the things that we now think make us who we are. It is the novel’s job to articulate and instruct us in those values. It is through novels that we learn how to be ourselves, how to find our place in the infinite complexities of the world around us.

One of the reasons, I think, that poetry provokes such anxiety in contemporary western society is that it resists fulfilling that role of instruction upon which the edifice of the novel rests. As Plato recognised, real poetry unsettles us, it stirs our emotions. Adrienne Rich once called poetry ‘a wick of desire’: ‘It reminds you’ she said, ‘where and when and how you are living and might live'[34]. And in all this, it is something about the form of poetry that is so provocative.